Appeals court judge puts Trump’s New York gag order on hold

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NEW YORK — A state appeals court judge on Thursday temporarily lifted a gag order that barred Donald Trump from speaking about the staff of the judge overseeing an ongoing $250 million civil fraud trial against the former president.

Within hours of the ruling, Trump seized on the new leeway and denigrated the trial judge’s principal law clerk on social media.

“Considering the constitutional and statutory rights at issue an interim stay is granted,” Associate Justice David Friedman of the Appellate Division, First Department wrote in a brief order. Friedman’s order also paused a gag order that barred the lawyers involved in the trial from making comments about “confidential communications” between the trial judge, Justice Arthur Engoron, and his staff.

Engoron’s initial gag order on Trump came early in the civil fraud trial after Trump posted a disparaging social media message depicting the judge’s law clerk, Allison Greenfield, who sits alongside the judge on the bench. Engoron found that Trump subsequently violated the gag order twice, issuing him two fines totaling $15,000.

After the initial gag order was in place, Trump’s lawyers began complaining repeatedly about Greenfield, accusing her of “eye rolls and constant whispering,” and arguing that her habit of passing notes to Engoron during proceedings suggested that she has been improperly influencing his decisions. Engoron then issued a second gag order prohibiting all lawyers working on the trial “from making any public statements, in or out of court, that refer to any confidential communications, in any form, between my staff and me.”

On Thursday evening, less than four hours after Friedman’s ruling, Trump publicly lambasted Greenfield once again, lashing out at her and Engoron on social media. “His Ridiculous and Unconstitutional Gag Order, not allowing me to defend myself against him and his politically biased and out of control, Trump Hating Clerk, who is sinking him and his Court to new levels of LOW, is a disgrace,” Trump wrote.

Friedman’s ruling came after Trump’s lawyers on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Engoron over the gag orders, arguing they infringe on free speech.

“This constitutional protection is at its apogee where the speech in question is core political speech, made by the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination, regarding perceived partisanship and bias at a trial where he is subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties and the threatened prohibition of his lawful business activities in the state,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

A spokesman for the trial court declined to comment in response to an inquiry about the lawsuit or about Friedman’s ruling halting the gag orders.

The temporary pause in Engoron’s gag orders comes as a separate, more sweeping gag order on Trump in his criminal case in Washington, D.C. has also been lifted pending oral arguments before an appeals court scheduled for Monday.